Sun Oct 25th, 2009 at 11:36:27 AM EST
The trend in logical positivism is to consider that predictive power is the same as understanding. We can predict, but that is not the same as understanding. We have know-how but not necessarily knowledge; in Greek terms, we have techne, but not scientia.
Numbers, and operations performed on them in algebra are ways to define one thing relative to another... the '=' sign pointing out the equivalence of one side of the equation with the other, with respect to some mathematical operation contained in the equation. One thing defines another, and no one thing stands on its own... reminds me of the Buddhist concept of dependent origination. But we want some ultimate answer, and not just some relative answer. Mathematics cannot take us beyond the relative. If we try to force the issue in QM, we meet infinities in the equations, indicating that absolute knowledge in the form that we seek is not possible. We can renormalize and get back to the business of techne, but scientia cannot be reached, at least in this way.
In the East, meditation is considered a closer approach than thought, reason, mathematics... though the sort of know how, techne, that modern physics achieves is not possible in following this path.
We want a mathematical description of the world, but what sort of mathematics will describe consciousness? We want to model the world, but in an incomplete way leaving consciousness out. If one believes that mind is an epiphenomenon of matter than one might keep going towards a mathematical description of the world, but I don't think this is tenable, and I think the infinities point this out.
Neither a physicist, nor a philosopher will get there because the sort of absolute answer we seek does not exist. Thought, language, mathematics work in the realm of the subject-object distinction, where consciousness is apart from matter, looks upon matter from a distance with no relationship to it. If reality were that way, then we could get there, but I don't think this fundamental duality describes the depths of reality which we seek. QM points out that matter cannot be described without also describing the observer... the object cannot be defined without also defining the subject. Thought and mathematics has reached its limit.
But meditation is a closer approach, and deep experiences here are non-dual. There is the ending of the agitation towards some absolute knowledge because this can be experienced. But it is not possible the drag the non-dual into a dualistic description of self/world.